Recently, notes sent from King George V and Queen Mary to their staff were uncovered in an archive. The archive compiled of around sixty notes and scraps of paper, detailing service life in the Royal Household at the turn of the 20th century.
A servant was sent the notes from the Royal couple, which complained about the food they received, and their dietary preferences. George V was never known for his humour, nor was his wife, and so the tone of the letters comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Royal couple.
Jean Barlerin, MVO was the Comptroller of Supply at the Treasurer’s Office of the Household from 1910 to 1934, and was the one who received the notes. He kept them to show his family, and now they are to be sold at auction. Included in the pile are comments on their food preferences, and enquiries as to the suppliers of certain items, as well as showing how after The Great War, the Royal Household tightened their purse strings like the rest of the country.
Complaints made from George and Mary include: ‘The plain rolls on board Britannia yesterday for tea were very tough.’
‘The King & Queen do not want any more of these biscuits ordered as they do not like them,’ reads one note.‘The Bacon a little too much cooked & rather hard.‘ complains another.
These notes give us a ‘Downton Abbey’ style insight into the Royal Household in the early 20th century, allowing us to see how the Family were as employers – and as you can see, they were quite the fussy eaters!
The couple also appear quite fussy over their children’s diets too: ‘Dinner for Princes Henry & George 7.15 in schoolroom. Consommé Cold Meat Compote Fruit’ and another forbade an Easter treat: ‘No coloured Easter eggs.’
There was one compliment amongst the notes – but not from George or Mary… The Duke of Connaught, George’s younger brother, enjoyed a certain brand of marmalade, and asked Mary to enquire after its maker: ‘The Duke of Connaught would like to have the address of the place from which the Orange Marmalade comes’. The make he loved so much was from Aberdeen the reply shows.
In just a few days, the notes will be sold at Bonhams auction with an estimated value of £1000. Matthew Haley from Bonhams said: “These are rare survivors and act as a window into the Royal Household.”
“Unlike most manuscripts, where the issue at stake is their historical importance, this group is unashamedly ephemeral – written, often on small scraps of paper that should have been thrown away,” Haley continues.
“They have immediacy that more august historical records so often lack, and we have a significant quantity here.”
Orders for particular occasions also appear within the lot: ‘Tea for 7 in the cricket pavilion for those playing at tennis – Tea – not coffee – Loaf of Bread – butter – Jam – Cake – Biscuits.’ Afternoon tea is quite appropriate following an afternoon of sport!
Tightening of the purse strings is demonstrated in one of George’s notes, as he asked for smaller portions: ‘Sunday Boiled Chicken for lunch. A small piece off the breast… Don’t send up a whole bird.’ This shows a frugal side to the family, asking the staff to not waste food on them when they do not require it. Mary further bemoans of the surplus: ‘The cakes bought locally were not especially good, we really do not want any & can manage with egg or tomato sandwiches & oatmeal biscuits.’
Similarly, Prince Albert, the future George VI, wrote that he didn’t need so much food: ‘In future I do not require the fingers of bread for lunch or dinner. For breakfast I only require 2 pieces. Albert.’ It seems the Royal Household felt the pinch just like many others across the country after the devastation of the First World War; nonetheless, they still found things to complain about!
Other items in the archive that will be sold include menu cards and seating plans, as well as thank-you notes.